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A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  866 ratings  ·  189 reviews
He was known simply as the Blind Traveler -- a solitary, sightless adventurer who, astonishingly, fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, and helped chart the Australian outback. James Holman (1786-1857) became "one of the greatest wonders of the world he so sagaciously explored," triumphing not only over ...more
Hardcover, 382 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Harper (first published 2005)
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Dec 20, 2007 Jenny rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
An amazing biography on a little-known historical figure, John Holman. I think this blurb describes it best:

"He was known simply as the Blind Traveler, a solitary, sightless adventurer who fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon and helped chart the Australian outback. Once a celebrity, a bestselling author and inspiration to Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the charismatic, witty Holman outlived his fame, dying in
Austin Outhavong
this book seems to give a good picture about the following things i have never experienced:

1. being blind

2. living in the 19th century

3. being in the british navy

4. the nature of world travel before there was a world tourism industy

5. the nature of the medical profession in england in the 19th century

I have read an amazing book about a blind traveler in the XIXth Century. Jason Roberts has done a priceless job in bringing this role-setting man to life again. The book is truly breathtaking. Holman’s adventures sound like very far-fetched fiction. It’s insane how he could travel the world alone at those times. To top it all, it turns out his only pal was deaf. Here are some of the many increadible things he managed to achieve alone with very limited funds and no sight at all:

explore the Brazil
Oct 22, 2008 Carrie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Travelers & Adventurers
Recommended to Carrie by: Bookstore
This book is a biography and travel account of Englishman: James Holman (1786- 1857. During his life, he became "the most accomplished traveler of all time", covering no less than a quarter of a million miles in his circumnavigation of the world.

It is exceptional that a person ventured of his own initiative (with an impulse towards the exotic)- but perhaps even more epic, because this solo traveler was blind.

The Blind Traveler wrote more than 5 books, regarded himself of equal to any seeing task
Sep 25, 2007 Tracey rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in historical travel.
A chance encounter in a library led the author to discover James Holman (1786–1857). Son of a shopkeeper, James rises to lieutenant in the British Navy right around the War of 1812. He is forced out of the Navy due to medical issues (blindness as well as rheumatic arthritis) and although nearly penniless, finds he is in the best of health when travelling in exotic countries and climes. ... alone.

Holman's charm and cunning nets him excursions to the Americas, Africa and the Orient - hunting slave
This is one of the more interesting biographies I've read. It's in a similar vein to The Professor and the Madman in that it explores a period in time as well as an idea as much as it does the life of a single individual. In this one, James Holman, the Blind Traveler, certainly is the central focus of the story, but it is wrapped in the early 19th century world in regards to its ideas about travel and Roberts exploration of blindness. Overall he has written a gripping, fascinating tale.
James Holman joined the Royal Navy in the mid-1700s to see the world. When he gradually became blind, he decided that travel was the only way to stay healthy and sane.He ended up traveling thousands of miles around the world.
Holman's accomplishments are astonishing not just for their time, but for the fact he often traveled to foreign countries alone, not knowing the language or anyone there. The book also contains the best description I have ever read about how a blind person uses the textures
Wow! What am I so afraid of, that I don't follow my dreams? The whole idea of a blind man, with little monetary means, traveling such distances and with such enthusiasm and awe, is the best example of what people can do when they have the right attitude. (A little determination doesn't hurt, either!) I'm so thankful to Jason Roberts for not letting this story get lost! It's inspiring!
I struggled through 75-100 pages before I figured out what was troubling me about this book.

It's the kind of book I fear I might write, given my penchant for pursuing scraps of tantalizing historical information, and falling down the rabbit hole in pursuit of the next detail, the next little piece of the picture.

John Holman should be a fascinating subject for a book. Born in 18th-century England, blinded at the age of 25, he rose above society's low expectations and considerable obstacles to bec
A fascinating, very well-written book about someone you've probably never heard of - James Holman, the "Blind Traveler," who lived from 1786 to 1857.

In this age of Google (Glass, Earth, Maps) it's very hard to remember that there was a time when travelers could still journey to places that were absolutely unmapped and unexplored. Holman did make these journeys, and he did it as a blind man who had very limited means, only the most basic transportation(he mainly walked), and, usually, no compani
This was a timely read. I've been thinking a lot lately about eyesight and world travel and this is an interesting book about the life and travels of James Holman - a man born in England in the late 1700s. After several years in the navy and other illnesses he suddenly finds himself blind. Even though this leaves him with little support and opportunities, it doesn't stop him from living his life fully. He finds a way to take care of himself and even to travel the world and write about his advent ...more
Oct 27, 2008 Erika rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, adventure lovers
Shelves: biography
This biography takes the reader into the life and times of James Holman (b. 1786), a British Naval officer who becomes blind after a mysterious illness at the age of 25. Well-written, engaging, and informative, this book not only chronicles the incredible adventures and accomplishments of Holman, but deftly escorts the reader into the world of sightlessness, describing such skills as "human echolocation," and such sensations as synesthesia (seeing sound, in Holman's case). Holman circumnavigated ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
So inspiring! Holman really blew me away! What industry and what a sense of adventure, and a strong sense of self you must posses to confidently travel in this way. I am so upset at the author though! Bah on you for writing such an important and legendary hero in such a transparently boring fashion! A hundred stars for the main character and negative a hundred for the writer. Fie! What an opportunity to explore allusion and description in a novel focusing on someone who must use all there other ...more
Everyone should learn who James Holman is. This guy was extraordinary and totally forgotten by history. He traveled more extensively throughout the world than anyone else had before him (1820s-1850s) and chose to get off the beaten path (if there even was one at that time) by hanging out in the bush and with natives any chance he got. A totally open-minded and sincere person who documented and experienced cultures we have all-but lost. Oh, did I mention he did this all as a blind man before Brai ...more
This is very well written book about an amazing man. I am about 1/3 of the way through and find it incredibly interesting. The author of the book stumbled upon the blind traveler by happenstance and researched the traveler in such detail that you would think that either the traveler had written the book or was there to consult the author, who by the way was born over one hundred years after the traveler's time. So far this is a fabulous read - very compelling and quite amazing for this man to ha ...more
Audio. I've already recommended this to two people - a good popular history choice. It was a little long as an audio, but consistently interesting (and good reader). I enjoyed the range of historical details that were added to the strict biography - I felt I got a good feel for the settings to which Holman traveled and the times in which he lived. I was left not only with a good bit of wonder for his accomplishments (and tenacity) but also with some nice historical tidbits to look into further ( ...more
This book is great. A true story of James Holman's life and travel in the late 1700's and early 1800's. He was blind and he circumnavigated the world in 1832. Impoverished and in bad health he traveled to the boundaries of the known world and further. An interesting section about Holman's participation in Britain's attempt to stop slave trade to the US. Britian sent British naval ships to intercept the slave ships off the coast of Africa and return the people to their homes. Their attempt was no ...more
We think, with how easily we can hop onto an airliner and in twelve hours be on the other side of the world, that we know about travel. All the amazing places and new tastes, sights, and sensations we can experience so easily and so quickly, such that could not be done 100 or even 50 years ago. How wrong we have it.

James Holman is most likely to be someone you have never heard of. James Holman is also the man who has travelled the most of anyone in the world, ever. And what's more he did it all,
Brian Neumann
This is one of the most inspiring and life-affirming biographies I've ever read. James Holman was a sailor in the Napoleonic Wars, a man who dreamt of seeing the world--until he was suddenly and inexplicably left blind at the age of 25. At a time when the blind were often institutionalized or left to beg in the streets, Holman spent the next fifty years travelling the world--visiting every inhabited continent, studying over 200 distinct cultures, and travelling over 250,000 miles. He rode horseb ...more
When I first read about James Holman, a.k.a. the Blind Traveller, in the Dueling Neurosurgeons book, I knew I wanted to know more. Jason Roberts has done an outstanding job of telling the story of this fascinating man who travelled the world without a hint of sight yet thrived in it, even supporting his lifestyle by writing books like Rick Steves. If Holman had been alive today, that would be amazing enough, but he lived in the early 1800's, his former British navy vessel having fired the first ...more
Fantastic!!! Jason Roberts is a extraordinarily gifted writer. I can't believe how much I learned about subjects beyond James Holman, including appalling maritime conditions and the archaic treatments of rheumatic diseases. It's like I took a college seminar on all the components of this man's unbelievable and gifted life.
Page 2 in his introduction the author writes: "Astounding as James Holman's exploits were, a further astonishment is how quickly he was forgotten." This is sadly very true. James Holman, the Blind Traveller, was perhaps the greatest traveller that ever lived, covering a quarter of a million miles in his lifetime, most of it on foot or horse, often unaccompanied, from Siberia to the heartlands of Africa. His was a "process of awareness, not a means of conquering distance." His travels were not hi ...more
This book is a candle in the dark rooms of self-doubt and loneliness. It shines brightest when you find yourself in need of inspiration. Inspiration to travel, live, love and explore life with NO limitations... not even if you were a blind man circumnavigating the globe alone in the late 1800's. Phenomenal!
A biography after living for a longtime with fiction, I don't know what the exact difference is but it's different I can say that. A work filled with the beauty of wanderlust, hope and nature, A long forgotten history - loved it soo much.
Unlike most biographies, this book reads like a novel. I was captivated that a blind man could accomplish the scope and depth of world travel in the 18th-19th centuries. Totally inspiring without being the least maudlin.
The greatest traveler of the world of the 19th century was a blind man. The story sounds a lot more interesting than it really is. The book is meticulously researched and well written. Doesn't matter - still boring.
Nov 11, 2009 Kristina rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: travel
I learned that sometimes the truly inspirational people out there, are amazing just by being who they are and doing their best to find joy in life. I also learned an amazing amount of history from this book.
Great book about life and travels of James Holman 1786-1857. Makes me want to walk the Appalachia trail. Haha. I am so stuck inside the box - I can't even get off the continent. Recommend.
Interesting, but didn't get into the real travelogue until the second half. Could have probably skipped the British naval history....
Best book I've read in ages. Story of a blind 19th century traveller covered vast stretches of the world. Inspiring. Humbling. Etc.
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Jason's debut nonfiction work, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler (HarperCollins), was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics' Circle Award, longlisted for the international Guardian First Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews and other publications. He is also the inaugural winner ...more
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